Time to Rethink the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

The conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have captured most of the public attention when it comes to thinking about U.S. foreign policy, and rightly so, given the devastating human consequences. But there is another issue that cannot be ignored if we want to secure the future of life on this planet — a new nuclear arms race.

The Pentagon has committed $2 trillion to producing a new generation of nuclear weapons over the next three decades, and Russia and China are in the midst of their own buildups. Most of the nuclear arms control agreements that helped stave off a nuclear confrontation during the Cold War lie in tatters, and the last major U.S.-Russia accord — the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty – is hanging by a thread.

These developments, along with Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats in connection with the war in Ukraine, have prompted the expert group assembled by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to set their Doomsday Clock — a measure of the risk of a nuclear war — at just 90 seconds to midnight.

But Congress and the Biden administration have a chance to reverse the momentum toward a conflict no one wants, and few if any could survive. They should rethink the U.S. commitment to the most dangerous weapon in our arsenal — intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Experts like former Defense Secretary William Perry have pointed out that ICBMs are particularly high risk because a president would only have a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them amid threat of an attack, greatly increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war based on a false alarm.